Coping with chronic neck pain may be made easier with mindfulness training if we generalize the results of a recent pilot study into the use of the therapy for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The randomized study found that group-therapy using mindfulness techniques helped patients manage daily symptoms of chronic joint pain more effectively and reduced feelings of stress in comparison to the control group. What does ‘mindfulness’ mean though, and how can you incorporate it into your neck painmanagement regime? Read more
The name itself – bone spur – sounds like it would be a sharp, jutting protrusion that is sure to cause pain. On the contrary, though, bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are actually not very “spur like.” They tend to be smooth growths of bone attached to other bones, and usually occur at jointed areas that sustain a lot of rubbing and grinding. A common place for them to develop is on the sides and tops of toes when high heels are frequently worn, called “pump bumps.” The bones of the spine can also develop bone spurs, but since these are not visible like bone spurs on the toes, people generally don’t know they have spinal osteophytes unless the bony growths produce symptoms.
If you have degenerative disc disease in your neck (or the cervical region of the spine), you should know that the condition is a fairly common cause of neck pain. It is characterized by the dehydration and weakening of your intervertebral discs over time and the normal wear and tear process. Although many individuals aren’t aware of it, most people in their 50s and 60s will have some evidence of disc degeneration, but this does not mean they will be diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. The condition also can affect patients in their 20s and 30s if other factors lead to the early deterioration of the discs.
Spondylolisthesis in the neck, or displacement of the cervical vertebrae, is usually a result of traumatic injury or the gradual development of small fractures within the vertebrae. Vertebral slippage is much more common in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine than in the cervical (neck) region. However, fractures to a small bony segment (known as the pars interarticularis) adjacent to vertebral joints can cause one cervical vertebra to slip out of place on top of another. This can produce symptoms that include neck stiffness, focal pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the upper body. Read more
Bone spurs in the neck (osteophytes) are bony growths that can be responsible for neck pain and back pain. These bone spurs may occur following a fracture of the vertebrae, due to rheumatoid arthritis, ligament degeneration, whiplash, or through general wear and tear resulting in spondylitis. Read more
What is Facet Disease in the Neck?
The cervical facet joints are synovial joints in the back of the spine that are contained within a fibrous capsule. Superior and inferior facet joints interact in order to allow the flexibility of the spine and are, therefore, subject to considerable wear and tear over the years through everyday movement, increasing the likelihood of facet disease in the neck. Although the facet joints themselves do not contain free nerve endings, they are innervated by mechanoreceptors, of which there are more in the cervical spine compared to the lumbar spine. Read more
Brachial plexus injury may occur through trauma or accidents in adulthood but is also a possibility during the birth of your baby. The brachial plexus is a complex of nerves between the neck and shoulder with spinal nerves exiting and dividing, then rejoining and combining throughout the region. Read more
Sadly, for many, neck pain is not just an acute incident lasting a day or two, but a chronic struggle which can have a serious impact on all aspects of daily life. For those living with chronic neck pain the battle to achieve an accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan can seem endless. For some, unfortunately, there are limited options to help with chronic neck pain, which can lead to depression, anxiety, other physical conditions, and adversely affect their career, relationships, and enjoyment of life.
Chronic Neck Pain and Family Life
Ensuring that family and friends fully understand the condition causing chronic neck pain is paramount in order to help the sufferer manage their levels of distress. Initiatives like Spinal Health Month are such an attempt to help those living with chronic neck pain and other spinal issues. By altering the household division of labor a spouse, or other family member, may significantly reduce the strain, and subsequent pain. This is especially true in conditions such as fibromyalgia which can be made substantially worse by fatigue and emotional stress.
Getting Help When Living with Chronic Pain
If family members are struggling to accept the reality of a newly diagnosed disease try taking them to medical appointments as this can help them to be more understanding. Similarly, as many patients tend to underestimate their pain and daily struggles with a chronic condition, having a family member sit in on a medical appointment may allow the physician to gain a clearer view of a patient’s limitations, thereby increasing the offers of assistance and support. Specific help with daily tasks may be available to some patients, such as with shopping, cleaning, and personal hygiene; patients should not be afraid to ask about their eligibility for these types of assistance.
Depression and Chronic Pain
If chronic pain is causing depression then it is important to address this problem as early as possible as depression itself can increase the experience of pain. Constructing a framework of accepted limitations and goals providing motivation for those with chronic pain can help the sufferer regain some independence and joie de vivre. Studies have found that those with chronic neck pain often limit their activities unnecessarily due to anxiety over perceived risks, with a series of psychological consultations allowing the patient to feel freer to enjoy life once more, whilst managing their chronic neck pain. A recent study has also found that mindfulness training can help improve quality of life in Rheumatoid Arthritis, a potential cause of neck pain.
Sometimes a patient will be taking pain medications, such as muscle relaxants, that are also antidepressants; however, the doses taken for analgesia are usually insufficient to help with depression itself. Patients should, therefore, not assume that these drugs are ineffective for their depression and, instead, discuss their options with their physician. It is also worth remembering that a common side-effect of pain medications is actually depression itself, so if symptoms develop after beginning a new form of treatment it is important to talk to the doctor; do not simply cease medication however, as withdrawal can make depression, and other side-effects, much worse. Working with the doctor to come off medications slowly will help to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Chronic Neck Pain and Work
Chronic pain and the associated issues such as anxiety, disability, and depression can seriously affect a patient’s ability to continue working as before. Specific help with employment, accessed through a doctor, local employment agency, or the employer themselves, can be incredibly helpful in allowing both minor and major changes to be enacted, thereby maintaining a chronic neck pain sufferer’s independence and employability. These changes could be something as simple as an ergonomic assessment of their work set-up and a new office chair, desk, or keyboard to improve posture. Major changes may allow for a patient to undergo retraining in a less physically demanding job so as to remain a part of the workforce where a previous career, such as manual labor, becomes untenable. Patients who feel compelled to give up work as a result of their pain often develop depression and social anxiety due to the change in circumstances and lack of daily interaction, as well as the loss of their financial independence. If these issues are present then it is important to address them quickly and develop an action plan to reduce the likely impact of living with chronic neck pain.
Available Treatments and Help
If the pain is mild then a regime involving yoga, massage, acupressure or acupuncture may be enough to manage the condition, and some may find that an acupressure mat can help alleviate the pain considerably if used daily. Neck stretching exercises formulated with the help of a physical therapist may also be beneficial in reducing the severity and incidence of pain, and help patients stave off further degeneration.
Spinal surgery is not always recommended for chronic neck pain, and long-term medication use may be contraindicated due to possible side-effects making alternative remedies for neck pain an attractive option if the condition is persistent. Discussing available help and treatments with an experienced physician or pain-management specialist can highlight appropriate therapies to aid the patient and improve coping skills. Above all, it is important to remember that there are many others living with chronic neck pain and that support groups, online forums, and medical professionals are available to help.
Anyone can suffer an injury to their neck or back, but those engaging in physical activity, particular contact sports, are at a higher risk than most. Whilst athletes and sports-people are likely to be healthier and stronger than the general populace, the extra strain that repetitive motion and high impact activities can have on their systems makes wear and tear, as well as acute neck injury and neck pain, more likely.